Case Study 35: Hearing room updates

Hearing room update - Wednesday 27 April 2015 - Final day

The Royal Commission continued hearing evidence today into the way in which the Archdiocese of Melbourne responded to allegations of child sexual abuse concerning Fr Peter Searson in the parish of Doveton. The hearing was particularly concerned with the period during which Cardinal Pell was Auxiliary Bishop for the region which took in the Doveton parish.

The Commission heard evidence from four former officers of the Catholic Education Office (CEO) of the Archdiocese.

Monsignor Thomas Doyle was the Director of Catholic Education in the Archdiocese from 1980 until September 2002.

Mons Doyle was asked about evidence Cardinal Pell gave the Commission in March 2016. In that evidence he said the CEO had deceived him about Searson’s behaviour because the CEO would have feared that he would not accept the status quo and would have asked all sorts of inconvenient questions about Searson. He said that the CEO kept things from him to protect Archbishop Little.

Mons Doyle said he thought Cardinal Pell’s evidence was wrong and that the things he had said were not true. He said that most of the things the Cardinal said were a surprise to him when the Cardinal said in his evidence that he had been dissatisfied with a briefing the CEO had given him ahead of a meeting Bishop Pell had with a union representative and a delegation of staff from Holy Family School at Doveton to discuss a log of claims about Searson’s behaviour.

Mons Doyle said that he “did not remember ever having a discussion or attending any briefings of Bishop Pell concerning Father Searson when he [Pell] was a Regional Bishop” in Melbourne.

Allan Dooley was the zone educational consultant for the CEO in Melbourne for some of the time Searson was parish priest in Doveton. He told the Commission that he found it difficult to believe that Cardinal Pell had come to the conclusion that he had been deceived by the CEO about Searson.

He said he had never been instructed to in any way deceive or withhold information from then Bishop Pell and he was unaware of anyone else in the CEO being instructed to keep information from Bishop Pell.

Mr Dooley also said he never was involved in any meeting or discussion with Bishop Pell about Searson..

Peter Annett was the deputy director of the CEO from 1982 to September 1989.

He told the Commission he was shocked when he heard the evidence Cardinal Pell gave the Commission about the CEO at the time he was Auxiliary Bishop. He said he was angry and disappointed about the Cardinal saying the CEO had tried to cover up Searson’s activities.

He said he was unaware of anyone trying to deceive then Bishop Pell. He said there was no reason to withhold information from Bishop Pell and that the CEO staff ‘would have been cheering from the roof tops’ if Bishop Pell had been able to take action against Searson.

Mr Annett said that he did not recall ever talking to Bishop Pell about Searson or about any other matter regarding the CEO..

Catherine Briant worked as an educational consultant for the CEO. In 1989 and 1990 she was the educational consultant for the area covering the Holy Family School in Doveton.

She told the Commission she had never met Cardinal Pell or had any meetings with him. She had never been given any instructions to withhold information from him.

She said she had received complaints from staff members at Holy Family School saying they were being bullied by Searson. She said she spoke with the staff and then also spoke with Searson about the allegations. She never heard of allegations or complaints of sexual abuse or misconduct made against Searson. 

She said she told Searson his behaviour including bullying and harassment was inappropriate. She said Searson had said the issues were ‘none of her business’ and that he had been taken aback by the claims.

The public hearing concluded with the evidence given today. At the conclusion of the hearing the Royal Commission gave directions for the provision of written submissions by Counsel Assisting and the parties involved in the hearing. 


Hearing room update - Friday 4 December 2015 - Day 9

Day 9 of the Melbourne hearing began with retired Bishop Hilton Deakin continuing his evidence to the Commission about the way in which he worked as vicar-general with Archbishop Little. He said much of the businesses between himself and the Archbishop was conducted in secret.

He gave further evidence about Searson and how he was dealt with by church leaders including what was discussed about Searson in Curia meetings.

He gave evidence about Bishop Pell meeting with Doveton school staff and others in 1989 about Searson’s behaviour. He gave evidence that he could not recall if Bishop Pell passed on any information about the meeting to him.

He said that he received much of his information about happenings within the Archdiocese from parish priests rather than from bishops.

He gave evidence about receiving complaints against Searson killing a bird, hitting a boy, frequenting boy’s toilets, observing boys in the showers and financial issues.

He also gave evidence about what and when information about Fr Fasciale became available and how it was dealt with. He agreed that the approach taken by the church was part of a cover up of Fasciale’s abusive crimes against young children.

He gave evidence that one of the reasons Archbishop Little did so little about pedophilia and cover-up was his desire to protect the Church and also his own legacy. He said that Archbishop Little also feared the reach of Roman Canon law knowing that if a priest was found guilty he could have appealed to Rome who would ‘find in favour of the priest and against the bishop’.

He told the Commission that a number of issues needed to be considered to improve the protection of children including improving mandatory reporting regimes, the influence of Canon law on clerical sexual abuse issues, the training of priests around sexual development and a need for the investigation of child sexual abuse to go beyond just investigating institutions.

He also commented on celibacy and the need to review its place within the life of a priest.

The Melbourne Archdiocese hearing concluded with Bishop Deakin’s evidence. On Monday Case Study 28, which is examining events in Ballarat, will recommence and is scheduled for two weeks.


Hearing room update - Thursday 3 December 2015 - Day 8

Day 8 of the Melbourne hearing began with retired Bishop Peter Connors, continuing to give evidence about the response of the Melbourne Archdiocese to a number of complaints from the 1960s through to the early 1990s.

Bishop Connors was asked about receiving a call from Dr Peter Barker, who gave evidence to the Commission earlier this week, in 1986 telling him about a young boy who had been abused by Pickering.

Bishop Connors told the Commission that he informed Archbishop Little about the call and that Archbishop Little then spoke to Pickering about the call. Not long after the call Pickering left St James Parish, Gardenvale and travelled to England on extended leave.

Asked if he believed others were aware of the allegation against Pickering he said ‘almost certainly’.

Bishop Connors was asked about Fr Desmond Gannon who was an assistant priest at various parishes and parish priest at Braybrook from 1971 to 1980.

The Commission heard 25 people from 14 parishes and schools made either a claim or a substantiated complaint against Gannon from 1954 to 1984.

The first complaint about him was received in April 1993 by the then Vicar General, Monsignor Cudmore. An interview was held with the victim, who said the abuse occurred around 1956 in the presbytery while he was a student at the school in St Anthony’s Parish, Glenhuntly.

Shortly after, Gannon essentially admitted the complaint and told of another, five or six children he had abused in different parishes. He was permitted to resign on ‘health grounds’ on 7 May1993 and on the same day was granted the title Pastor Emeritus.

Bishop Connors said that describing the reason for his resignation as being on health grounds was a way of concealing the true reason for him being stood down which was because of his ‘sexual acting out with a minor’.

Gannon’s faculties were removed in July 1993 and his title as Pastor Emeritus was removed by September 1993.

Bishop Connors also gave evidence about Fr David Daniel, who was ordained in 1975 and had seven people make complaints of sexual abuse against him between 1972 and 1994. He was convicted of 16 counts of indecent assault and other offences in 2000 and sentenced to six years jail. His faculties were removed in 2000.

He also gave evidence about Fr Fasciale who had 20 people make claims of sexual abuse against him between 1953 and 1985 in 13 different parishes and schools.

Bishop Connors told the Commission about what he thought other church advisors would have known about Fasciale’s sexual abuse behaviour and how the church leadership responded.

During Bishop Connors’ evidence Justice McClellan remarked that both Bishop Connors and Archbishop Hart had been ‘very frank’ in their evidence ‘for which the Commission is grateful’.

Bishop Connors told the Commission that he believed Bishops across Australia have ‘all put in place people who are working full time in ensuring the protection of children’.

‘…every priest in the diocese has gone through a process of training to recognise the danger of sexual assault of minors and how they should respond to any kind of allegation’, he said.

William Howitt a former police officer in the Doveton police station gave evidence regarding receiving a complaint in 1993 that Searson had held a knife to a child at the local school.

Mr Howitt gave evidence that he interviewed the victim in the presence of the parents. He also interviewed Searson who said if something occurred there had been no intent of malice. Mr Howitt prepared a brief of evidence which didn’t go forward because the parents didn’t want the child to go through the court process.

He gave evidence that he contacted ‘the church headquarters’ and advised them what happened with a view to having them also take some action. While documents indicate that Mr Howitt spoke to the Vicar-General he could not recall that happening.

He gave evidence that he had gone to the church because of his concerns for children but his recollection is that the church would not act without proof.

Bishop Hilton Deakin gave evidence that he was appointed as vicar general in 1987and later as auxiliary bishop was responsible for the eastern area of Melbourne.

Bishop Deakin gave evidence that he was shocked by the extraordinary ‘cover up of the behavior of evil men against children’.

He gave evidence that he was never invited to make any comment about the child sexual abuse claims that came to Archbishop Little. He said Archbishop Little held information about abuse ‘matters closely to himself’.

Asked about information that was provided in the Curia, Bishop Deakin said that not all information about abusive priests was provided to the Curia. He agreed with the Commission Chair that this was dishonest.

Bishop Deakin gave evidence about Searson saying that a document shown to him by the Commission about Searson’s behavior was ‘a first class document for putting a bloke out the backdoor…’. After a meeting in the Doveton parish Bishop Deakin came away thinking that Searson was ‘the most despicable man I’ve ever met in my life’.

The hearing will continue on Friday.


Hearing room update - Wednesday 2 December 2015 - Day 7

Day 7 of the Melbourne hearing began with evidence from Stephen Fontana, Assistant Commissioner, Victorian Police, about the police’s Child Exploitation Unit (CEU) investigations into a number of different priests.

Assistant Commissioner Fontana said he was surprised and did not understand that following a police interview with Ms Julie Stewart in December 1990 in which she revealed Searson had abused her in the confessional that the CEU determined that ‘nil offences disclosed’.

‘I'm of the view that there certainly was an indecent assault that was committed and it should have proceeded further,’ he told the Commission.

He gave evidence that, at the time, he thought the investigation of child sexual abuse crimes was ‘a relatively new and evolving area for Victorian Police’.

He was asked about Ms Stewart saying in her statement to the Commission that the policeman who interviewed her had asked if she was wearing a ‘neon sign’ after she had revealed she had been abused by both Searson and a member of her family.

He told the Commission that while the policeman had no recollection of making the comment, if he had he was ‘deeply sorry’. After lunch Ms Stewart’s lawyer told the Commission Ms Stewart had accepted the policeman’s apology.

Assistant Commissioner Fontana suggested that the reason an investigation did not proceed against Searson following the Stewart interview was because of reluctance of parents and staff to come forward because of ‘fear of reprisals and much of the information being based on innuendo and rumour’.

He told the Commission a police officer had notified a ‘senior church’ leader that while the investigation would not go forward against Searson he held concerns ‘for the safety of children’. The police officer was told that unless Searson was convicted of an offence no action would be taken against him by the Church.

Fontana was asked about complaints to Police in May 1994 about Fr Fasciale and a subsequent investigation by police in September 1994.  A brief of evidence was compiled and was unusually sent to the Attorney-General and then to the office of the Director of Public Prosecution.

Fasciale died in March 1996 before charges were laid. The Commission heard the delay in proceeding against Fasciale was excessive and unusual and that the Police had tried to hurry the DPP.

He was also asked about police investigations into Fr Pickering. He told the Commission Pickering had left Australia in 1993 before the first reports against him were made to Police in 1996. He said that ‘the budget was held very tight’ and approval to get leave to travel overseas at the time to interview Pickering would have been unlikely.

Retired Bishop Peter Connors, who has previously given evidence in this hearing, returned to the witness box to give evidence telling the Commission the first time there was a discussion between himself as Vicar-General and Archbishop Little about clerical sexual abuse was in 1978 about Wilfred (Bill) Baker.

He told the Commission Archbishop Little had told him a friend had left the priesthood after being treated poorly by some church leaders. Bishop Connors suggested this could have been a factor in why Archbishop Little found it difficult to discipline his priests.

Bishop Connors agreed with evidence given by Archbishop Hart yesterday that there was an absence and failure of process around handling of complaints within the Archdiocese from mid-1970s through to the early 1990s.

He told the Commission he failed as Vicar General by not going into the Doveton parish and becoming personally involved and meeting with Searson and teachers.  He thought his failure in dealing with complaints was ‘because of being unable to engage with Archbishop Little in getting firm instructions about what he wanted me to do…’.

Bishop Connors agreed that in the minutes of Curia and other meetings at the time euphemisms such as ‘treatment’ might be used to mask discussions about alcohol problems and sexual misconduct of priests.

He said the recording of minimal minutes of these meetings was a ‘way of protecting the Church’. Asked why he thought this was the approach both he and his predecessors took he responded that it happened ‘possibly naturally as a priest, protecting the good name of the church…it’s a cultural matter’.

Bishop Connors was asked about a comment he made to school principal, Patricia Taylor, in reference to Baker that ‘once a paedophile, always a paedophile’.

He told the Commission he had this understanding of Baker and his sexual behavior after learning about child sexual abuse from lectures provided by the Australian Catholic Bishops Conference before mid-1992. He said all Australian bishops would have had this understanding by that time.

He accepted there had been a collective failure to act on Baker by all people who knew of his behavior including the Curia and other advisors between the first report in 1978 and the final report in 1992.

Asked why the collective will was such that nothing happened he said ‘all of us failed…the culture of the time.’ He agreed that it was a culture that ‘you would not want to exist now’ and that the lack of action could well be about protecting the church and contrary to the church’s purpose and mission.

The hearing will continue on Thursday.


Hearing room update - Tuesday 1 December 2015 - Day 6

Archbishop Denis Hart continued giving his evidence at the start of day six of the Royal Commission’s public hearing into the Archdiocese of Melbourne.

He was firstly asked about a document sent by concerned staff from the Holy Family School listing a set of grievances about Searson in his capacity as parish priest and legal advice that suggested a church investigation be undertaken. The Archbishop agreed with Counsel Assisting that this investigation never took place.

When asked why he hadn’t acted on Searson immediately, particularly on an allegation of criminal assault on an altar boy, he said he became aware of the allegation a week before the commencement of the Melbourne Response.

He said he immediately issued instructions that Searson not be allowed to call altar boys to Mass and that the incident then be left for the Melbourne Response to investigate. The Archbishop agreed that in hindsight Searson should have been stood down.

Archbishop Hart was questioned extensively about Fr Nazareno Fasciale, who was a priest at various parishes including Geelong and North Fitzroy. The Commission heard Fasciale molested many children over many years in many different parishes.

Evidence showed that the first alleged incident against Fasciale was one year after his ordination in 1952. A further 19 claims were made against him at 13 different places, generally parishes and schools. The last allegation was in 1985. He was charged in 1994 and 1995 but died in March 1996 without the charges being heard.

The Commission heard senior church leaders were aware of much of the abuse including admissions by Fasciale. Consideration was given to him being placed on administrative leave in November 1993 and to the option he was given of resigning on health grounds.

Archbishop Hart said giving this option to offending priests was misleading: ‘I believe it’s not totally facing the reality of the situation…people don’t know adequately and therefore people are not protected’, he said.

Archbishop Hart accepted that on a number of occasions misleading information about the reasons for Fasciale’s resignation were offered including a statement in 1996 from the then Vicar General, Mon. Cudmore, that he ‘wishes to vehemently deny that the church has been covering up complaints for years. Action has and will be taken as soon as reports are made’.

The Archbishop also gave extensive evidence about a number of other offending priests including Wilfred ‘Bill’ Baker, Ronald Pickering, Desmond Gannon and David Daniel and the extent of knowledge by church leaders about the abuse they perpetrated.

Archbishop Hart accepted that the response of church leaders had often been inadequate and had often left children in danger. He also accepted that church leaders had failed to act on credible information about criminal abuse by priests.

Archbishop Hart told the Commission that given that most of the priests examined in this hearing had offended shortly after ordination then questions need to be looked at regarding preparation for the priesthood.

He agreed that many of the priests offended over a long period despite the church being aware of their offences quite early.

The day concluded with Dr Peter Barker giving evidence about the abuse of a 16 year old boy, BVE, in 1982 by Pickering in St James Parish in Gardenvale and Dr Baker’s reporting of the abuse to the Melbourne Archdiocese.

The hearing will continue on Wednesday.


Hearing room update - Monday 30 November 2015 - Day 5

Day five of the Royal Commission’s public hearing into the Archdiocese of Melbourne started with evidence from survivor witness BTO who was abused by Father Wilfred ‘Bill’ Baker in 1996 while he was parish priest at the Good Shepherd Parish in Gladstone Park, Melbourne.

BTO gave evidence about first being abused in Baker’s family home in Maryborough in 1976. BTO had been one of Baker’s altar boys. BTO said he struggled to concentrate at school and that the abuse had affected his education and ‘continues to affect him today’.

In 1999 he was contacted by police and became part of a prosecution case against Baker in which after initially pleading not guilty he changed his plea to guilty on the day of the trial. BTO found the experience distressing and re-traumatising.

BTO was introduced to the Melbourne Response where a hearing was arranged and he was ultimately offered $35,000. He told the Commission the payment made him ‘feel dirty’.

Baker was jailed in 1999 for 16 counts of indecent assault and one of gross indecency which occurred between 1960 and 1979. He was laicised in 2012 and died in 2014.

Patricia Taylor was the former Principal at St James Primary in North Richmond where Baker was the local priest and employer of Ms Taylor. She told the Commission that she used to have meetings with Baker before he celebrated Mass on school mornings so that he had less reason to come into the school.

She gave evidence about an informal meeting with the CEO before Baker started in the parish in which she was warned not to let children be alone with Baker, not to let children go into a closed confessional with Baker, not to give him staff contact details and not to be in a room by herself with him.

She told the Commission she had not been told specifically why she had been given these warnings but that there had been ‘allegations made against Father Baker in previous parishes’.

Asked about how she felt about the conversation being off the record she said ‘I felt quite vulnerable, I felt quite abandoned…I was charged with protecting a community from someone who was known to have fairly serious allegations made against them’.

Ms Taylor gave evidence that she’d met Bishop Peter Connors and told him about a relative who had revealed that they had been abused by Baker before he came to North Richmond.

She said Bishop Connors told her ‘once a paedophile, always a paedophile’.

She gave evidence that despite Baker requesting children be sent to the presbytery on small errands she never allowed this to happen.

She said changes have now been made within the CEO to ensure there is now a person dealing directly with allegations.

She said ‘I have actually worked as a principal for 12 parish priests…and 11 of them were fine, upstanding men who did fabulous work; we got a bad egg’.

Miss Taylor also gave evidence that Baker had a serious drinking problem and by lunchtime he was generally quite intoxicated.

She said she worked at the school for nine years leaving 18 months after Baker had arrived. She said she left partly because of Baker’s behavior. She said she spoke to the incoming principal about Baker including the strategies ‘to keep Baker on his side of the fence’.

The second survivor witness for the day, BTU, who had his statement read to the Commission by his lawyer, talked about being abused by Fr Ronald Pickering in 1966 as an 11-year old altar boy. Pickering was the assistant priest in the St Mary’s Parish in East St Kilda, Melbourne.

Pickering orally abused BTU in the Presbytery on several occasions escalating to masturbating BTU and attempted anal rape.

BTU said that Pickering was in the East St Kilda Parish for about three years and that during that time he had been abused around twice a week. The abuse continued after Pickering was moved from East St Kilda to Warburton Parish.

Pickering was transferred to other parishes over the years while he continued to abuse BTU who had come to see him as a ‘father figure’. BTU travelled to the UK with Pickering for four weeks staying with his sister.

BTU told his wife about the abuse in 1982 and the rest of his family about the abuse in 2002.

Pickering left Australia in May 1993 for England and his faculties as a priest were removed in January 1994.

In early 1996 BTU contacted the police but no investigation eventuated. There will be evidence about Victorian police investigations and if Pickering had known about them before leaving Australia.

In 1996 BTU went through the Melbourne Response and was awarded $30,000. He told the Commission he was a very unhappy child, his education suffered, he is disillusioned with life and has contemplated suicide.

Archbishop Denis Hart gave detailed evidence about the structure, relationships and different roles of people within the Archdiocese including the process of removing priests and the involvement with Rome saying that abusive priests needed to be removed from the priesthood faster.

Archbishop Hart said that ‘certainly in my time we’ve done our level best, and in Cardinal Pell’s time…to try to address these matters, to provide relief for victims, to try and provide help. Our efforts may even to this point in time be regarded as imperfect and I’m prepared to accept that, but it’s an indication of the way in which we have acted resolutely…’

He told the Commission that prior to the introduction of the Melbourne Response there was a lack of independence and ‘will’ to investigate complaints within the Archdiocese.

Archbishop Hart gave evidence about the growing important role of women in leadership within the Church saying that the ‘glacial’ change needed to move ‘a good deal quicker’.

He said that reading the victim’s statements he had been ‘totally appalled by the extent and depravity of the offenders and the suffering and ruination’ of survivors lives.

Archbishop Hart described the ‘ad hoc’ approach taken to complaints before 1996 as ‘wholly inadequate’ and that none of the seven matters before the Commission ‘were properly investigated’. He agreed that, in part, the conduct of Archbishop Little and Vicars-General Cudmore, Deakin and Connors was ‘a terrible failure’.

When asked if the Auxiliary Bishop with the responsibility for the Doveton area, Bishop Pell, was part of the ‘complete failure’ he said he didn’t know what Bishop Pell knew, ‘…I don’t know what he did apart from what is in the documents so I’d have to say that would have to be tested’.

The hearing will continue on Tuesday.


Hearing room update - Friday 27 November 2015 - Day 4

Day four of the Royal Commission’s public hearing into the Archdiocese of Melbourne started with Mr Allan Dooley who was a regional educational consultant in the Melbourne CEO during the period when Peter Searson was parish priest at Doveton.

Mr Dooley reported directly to Father Doyle, former director of Catholic Education in the Archdiocese of Melbourne.

Mr Dooley told the Commission he agreed Searson was a devious and dangerous person and he was someone who should not be around children without supervision because of ‘his manner, because of the way he would deal with children, because of the way he would intimidate and threaten’.

When asked about his reporting processes Mr Dooley told the Commission he did not always become aware of how his reports were dealt with and this sometimes made it difficult to do his job. He told the Commission he believed the allegations against Searson ‘had substance’ on the basis of them having been reported by school principal Sleeman.

He said that while allegations against Searson were ‘substantial’ they were not ‘substantiated’ or ‘proven’ and that without a formal investigation Searson could not be removed. He said he had not called for an investigation and was unaware of anyone else doing so.

Asked by Commissioner McClellan why he had not ‘point-blank’ recommended Searson be removed from the school he said he believed his reports were drawing attention to the ‘necessary actions’ but that in hindsight ‘it seems obvious’ that he should have made such a recommendation.

Bishop Peter Connors was vicar-general to Archbishop Frank Little from 1976 to 1987, he was an auxiliary bishop in the Archdiocese of Melbourne from 1987 until installed as Bishop of Ballarat in 1997. He retired in 2012.

Bishop Connors was questioned about his role as vicar-general and secretary to Archbishop Little from 1974 to 1997 particularly in relation to his involvement with Peter Searson.

Bishop Connors told the Commission that any capacity he had to investigate complaints was ‘very limited in its scope or in what I was capable of doing’.

When he was asked about a number of allegations against Searson including recording confessions and having children kneel between his legs during confession he said that he believed he failed to investigate because he ‘foolishly trusted the priest to be telling me the truth’.

He said ‘…on reflection I do believe I should have been more involved at a local level in finding out just what was happening’ and that his instruction that Searson use a kneeler in confession was ‘naïve in thinking that was sufficient’ to protect children from Searson.

When asked by Commissioner McClellan about the difficulties of removing a priest from his parish Bishop Connors told the Commission that over ‘the past 20 years there’s been a greater understanding of this issue and that there are better processes in place since 2000 to ensure that this kind of allegation is dealt with and action taken’.

While Bishop Connors said there are some things to be gained by the parish priest feeling that he’s got a responsibility to a local parish school as the employer of staff he agreed with Commissioner McClellan that ‘for the sake of good order and duty of care that (role) should be taken away from the parish priest and given to a centralized expert body’.

When asked about the national development of protocols to deal with clerical sexual abuse in the early 1990s and if this had an influence on the decision to issue a canonical warning to Searson, Bishop Connors said he accepted that canonical processes were starting to be put in place.

Asked about the way in which the Archdiocese handled Searson over many years Bishop Connors said ‘we responded in a very amateur way and probably left a lot of people hurt’.

When asked if he was trying to shield Archbishop Little from dealing with the Doveton issues he said he didn’t believe this to be true but that he ‘found it just so difficult to get him to act’.

Bishop Connors concluded his evidence regarding Searson and will be recalled to deal with other issues next week.

Towards the end of the day survivor witness BVC read a statement to the Commission in which he talked about his experiences in the Holy Family parish and the abuse he suffered at the hands of Searson as a 10-year old altar boy in 1992.

He spoke about being abused by Searson in 1992 in the presbytery including being raped anally and orally about 10 times over the following five years.

BVC completed high school and went on to complete a graduate diploma in Education becoming a teacher and an assistant principal.

He told the Commission he has found it extremely difficult to come to terms with his abuse and that he has struggled with building relationships. BVC said he has considered suicide.

The hearing will continue on Monday.


Hearing room update - Thursday 26 November 2015 - Day 3

Day three of the Royal Commission’s public hearing into the Archdiocese of Melbourne started with Monsignor Thomas Doyle giving evidence about his role as the Director of Catholic Education from 1979 to 2002 and events in the Holy Family Parish, Doveton.

He gave evidence that he reported directly and regularly to Archbishop Frank Little about the operation of the Catholic schools within the Archdiocese.

He said he was unaware of how the many reports to Archbishop Little about Searson’s behavior in Holy Family Parish were dealt with and that he did not take his concerns to any of the Auxiliary Bishops.

He told the Commission that he expressed the view many times to Archbishop Little that Searson should be removed from the Parish and that he was a risk to children.

When asked by Commissioner McClellan why he didn’t seek assistance in getting Searson moved he said it was ‘very difficult to get the Archbishop to move on these matters’.

After lunch Mon Doyle was asked about two incidents in 1987 in which Searson is reported as having struck a student with a clipboard and that he had killed a distressed cat in the school grounds by picking it up by the tail and throwing it over a fence.

Mon Doyle said the incidents ‘were further indications of the very strange behavior of Father Searson, and again, part of the corpus of material that, from time to time, we presented to the Archbishop about Searson’.

Mon Doyle was also asked about a meeting between one of the school’s staff and parents with the then Auxiliary Bishop George Pell in which he heard their concerns. The Commission was told that ‘Bishop Pell heard what the staff had to say and indicated that he would consider what needed to be done’.

The Commission heard that after the meeting Bishop Pell said all he could do was pass the information on to the Vicar General.

Searson was given his first official canonical warning from the Church after he was reported for slandering a boy for not having gone to Mass. When put to Mon Doyle that this seemed a minor offence giving the other claims made against him he said ‘I think it was like the ‘Al Capone’ thing, we were prepared to get him on something’.

Shortly after this another allegation was made about Searson hitting an altar boy which led to an investigation by Mr Peter O’Callaghan in his capacity as an independent commissioner of the Melbourne Response into Searson’s conduct over the years.

His recommendation that Searson be put on administrative leave was adopted and acted upon in March 1997 and his faculties were removed in July 1998.

In Mon Doyle’s statement to the Commission he said looking back he feels ‘an overwhelming sense of shame and deep regret that he did not look for another way at the time to have the issues addressed’.

He told the Commission that, on reflection, he thought the reason Archbishop Little did not act on Searson was due to two things: ‘I think he had an exaggerated respect for the priesthood, and I think he really didn’t think these things were happening’.

Mon Doyle concluded his evidence and the hearing will continue.


Hearing room update - Wednesday 25 November 2015 - Day 2

Day two of the Royal Commission’s public hearing into the Archdiocese of Melbourne started with the second survivor witness, Ms Julie Stewart, telling the Commission about the abuse she suffered at the hands of Peter Searson at Holy Family School in the Melbourne suburb of Doveton.

Ms Stewart told the Commission that Searson indecently assaulted her in the confessional in 1984 and 1985. She said she was approached by the police in 1990 and signed a statement in which she alleged being pulled onto Searson’s lap and held against his erect penis in the confessional in 1985.

The police indicated to her there was ‘not enough to go by’ to charge Searson. The police response to the allegation is expected to be looked at later in this hearing.

Ms Stewart also gave evidence about her experience when in 1997 she was involved in a Melbourne Response hearing investigating Searson. She told the Commission that the experience was distressing and that she had felt re-traumatised by it.

In 1998 Ms Stewart received a cheque from the Archdiocese of Melbourne for $25,000 and an apology from Archbishop Pell.

She told the Commission:

I still cry for the little girl I once was.  The little girl that never got to be a normal little girl, doing all the things that little girls should do.  The little girl who always just wanted to fit in, but always felt like a weirdo, like a problem.  Nothing can ever give that back to me.  It is a life sentence, and every day I make a choice to keep going.

Graeme Sleeman, who was the principal at Holy Family School in Doveton from 1984 to 1986 gave evidence about his time at the school while Searson was parish priest in the Holy Family Parish.

Mr Sleeman told the Commission that Searson came to the Parish with a poor reputation including ‘having strange relationships with children’ and ‘massive discrepancies with the way he handles finances’.

He gave evidence about Searson wearing an army uniform around the school and that he had ‘held a gun’ on student school cleaners. These incidents were reported to the Catholic Education Office (CEO).

He gave evidence that parents had come to him in September 1985 complaining about the way in which confession was being undertaken by Searson. He also gave evidence that he had ‘come to the firm conviction’ that Searson had interfered with Ms Stewart in the confessional.

He said he reported this and other incidents to the CEO through the regional education consultant. He said he was never informed about how the complaints were dealt with and that he was concerned that the complaints were not being followed up.

Mr Sleeman gave evidence that he resigned from the school in 1986 and that he was unable to gain any further employment in the Catholic education system.

Ms Carmel Rafferty, a former teacher at Holy Family School during the time after Mr Sleeman had been principal, told the Commission that when she arrived at the school she was told by other teachers about Searson’s behavior including that children weren’t safe around him, particularly in the confessional.

She also gave evidence about a young boy who came to her complaining about Searson touching him inappropriately while serving as an altar boy

She told the Commission about several other incidents concerning Searson’s behavior and her reporting of the incidents to the principal and the CEO.

She said that in March 1993 she resigned from the school after receiving a letter in late 1992 which expressed concerns about her performance. She also described feelings isolated within the school.

She said she felt she had been pressured out of the school.

The hearing will continue.


Hearing room update - Tuesday 24 November 2015 – Day 1

The first day of the Royal Commission’s public hearing looking into the way in which the Archdiocese of Melbourne responded to allegations of child sexual abuse from the mid-to late 1980s until 1996 started today.

In the morning session counsel assisting, Ms Gail Furness, made an opening statement to the Commission in which she outlined the allegations against eight priests and responses from the Archdiocese to the allegations.

Ms Furness told the Commission that between January 1980 and February 2015, 454 people had made claims or substantiated complaints of child sexual abuse about priests, religious, employees and volunteers operating within the Archdiocese of Melbourne. She said 88 percent of incidents occurred from 1950 to 1989 and that the 1970’s had the highest number of claims, 142.

According to Ms Furness $12.8 million was paid by the church as a result of 316 of the claims with an average payment of $40,000. When taking into account treatment, legal and other costs a total of $16.8 million was paid to claimants at an average of $52,000.

Also in the morning former Priest Philip O’Donnell gave evidence about his time in the Gladstone Park Parish in outer suburban Melbourne as an assistant priest to convicted child abuser Wilfred ‘Bill’ Baker.

Mr O’Donnell spoke about his time as a seminarian in Glen Waverley and Clayton where he described a group within the seminary as ‘high camp’. He also gave evidence about his academic training and the involvement within the community.

Mr O’Donnell said Baker had an ‘obsession with adolescent boys’ and that he was ‘immature sexually’.

Mr O’Donnell gave evidence about his reporting of a claim of abuse against Baker to the then Archbishop Little and Vicar General, Monsignor Connors while he was priest in Gladstone Park. Barker was moved from Gladstone Park by the Bishop some five months after the allegation was made to another Parish in Eltham.

Mr O’Donnell also gave evidence about his time in the Parish of Sunbury where he was assistant priest to Peter Searson. Mr O’Donnell described Searson as an incredibly divisive and difficult man.

Searson was transferred to the Holy Family Parish in Doveton in 1984 where there were more complaints about his behavior including having a hand gun at school, animal cruelty and physical and sexualized conduct with children.

Complaints were made to the Catholic Education Office and the Vicar General and Archbishop were aware of the complaints. In 1997 Searson was charged with the unlawful assault of an altar boy, he pleaded guilty and was released without conviction on a good behavior bond. In July 1998 his faculties as a priest were removed.

Ms Furness said there was no serious investigation of any complaint made against Father Peter Searson during the 1980s and early 1990s.

After lunch Mr O’Donnell gave evidence across a wide range of topics including celibacy, the influence of Rome over the management of the child sexual abuse crisis internationally, the influence of the ‘right wing’ component of the church, the lack of sexual development and understanding within the clergy, reporting of allegations to the police.

Mr O’Donnell gave evidence that he had heard a pedophile’s priest confession and that it had effectively tied his hands regarding reporting the priest to the police.

Just before the end of the day the survivor witness, BVD, started giving evidence.

BVD gave evidence about sexual abuse he had suffered in 1978 over six months as an eight-year old altar boy in the Sunbury Parish of Our lady of Mount Carmel by Searson.

BVD gave evidence he had regularly been taken by Searson on Saturday mornings into the presbytery where he was sexually abused.

He said the abuse shattered his innocence and his ability to trust anyone. BVD said he had attempted suicide a number of times, had been admitted to psychiatric care, has difficultly forming relationships and is paranoid.

The hearing will continue tomorrow.

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